The Treasury Minister and Chief Minister have been grilled over Steam Packet and legal advice given over potential breaches of Covid regulations during this morning’s Tynwald sitting.

These questions follow on a similar theme as the one explored by advocate Ian Kermode last week.

Urgent Question 1

Chris Robertshaw to ask the Minister for the Treasury Alf Cannan –

Whether the Government’s shareholder asked for a report from the non-executive directors of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company regarding the Company’s compliance with COVID Regulations in the light of recent developments?

AC –  Following concerns raised over operations in relation to pandemic, I wrote to the chairman on Feb 18 requesting an investigation be held by non-executive board directors. The report was provided to me on Feb 24. Conclusions reached in that report and assurances received, I concluded I did not need to act. HQ has ordered a review and my report will go towards that.

Chris Robertshaw – Public Accounts Committee will be holding an inquiry into the matter, will we get to see your report too?

AC – Yes

Kate Lord-Brennan – *My wifi dropped out*

AC – No one else has had this report, in terms of the crew, the men and women of the Steam Packet have served us well throughout the pandemic knowing they were at risk and the fact they did it for 11 months without incident speaks volumes for their professionalism, they deserve our admiration and respect.

Lawrie Hooper – Has CoMin seen the report?

AC – No they haven’t seen it. Always Chief’s intention to have his own investigation. Since February matters have escalated and it felt inappropriate to share it. I decided as shareholder no other actions were needed.

Julie Edge – Your review, CM’s review and PAC review, will you give your view as to whether this is independent enough and as a shareholder, was there any responsibility on Steam Packet to provide audits or if they were shared with Public Health?

AC – I’m sure the head of internal audit will carry out a thorough and professional review. The company is run at arms length and we don’t receive specific audit reports.

Chris Thomas – Feb 23, there was a Keys statement from Chief Min saying there had been a breakdown in rules and said the index case wasn’t wearing a mask, he asserted this had come from a English based crew member?

AC – I think in light of the statements made yesterday and report being commissioned, I think this is best left for appropriate judgement by those investigating it.

Kate Lord-Brennan – Were you involved in deciding who would run Chief Min’s investigation?

AC – No it was a matter for Chief Secretary Will Greenhow.

Lawrie Hooper – Can you advise if you were aware of any other investigations going on at the same time as the one you asked for? Chief Min said there was one, but you said you haven’t shared this report with him, what else was going on?

AC – I am aware a number of bodies were looking into this matter including Public Health, I do not specifically know the details of any other reports at this time.

Chris Robertshaw – As the sole shareholder, with PAC approaching it with a degree of urgency, are you under the impression that the audit inquiry will also be a matter of urgency so we can clear this up once and for all?

Alf Cannan – I note your comments on behalf of PAC and I’m sure the audit review will be done with professionalism, efficiency and integrity. I am not aware of any timescales.

Urgent Question 2

Jason Moorhouse to ask the Chief Minister –

If he will make a statement on the implementation of the new testing regime for Isle of Man Steam Packet employees and any changes will be made following the announcement by the Steam Packet on 12 March 2021?

HQ – I am aware of the Steam Packet announcements to cancel sailings, a commercial decision after high risk contact cases. New case was detected as a result of the new testing regime of at least once a week. For crew members, there is no requirement to self-isolate, it is a requirement of their individual exemption notices to avoid isolation. If they won’t do the test, then they must isolate themselves. For UK residents working onboard, they must isolate when on the island whilst not at work. We have issued 78 exemptions to Manx crew based members and 112 to UK based. So far the testing regime has returned six positive results of the 250 taken. They are also required to adhere to strict guidelines agreed between Steam Packet and Public Health. This is a practical solution balancing public health and maintaining vital services. Full removal of risk is impossible.

Jason Moorhouse – Could you confirm the positives were island residents and do they just take one test on day one and one on day seven and they are free to carry on as normal in between?

HQ – If they don’t take the tests, then they must isolate. A shift is regarded as a shift cycle, so say seven days, they are tested on the first and last day.

Juan Watterson – You have said there is no criminal wrongdoing, is this a police investigation, advice from AG? Who said it?

HQ – Purely an assessment of the circumstances. I have asked for a review to find out what happened.

Jason Moorhouse – With regards to those working being tested, is it optional? And for those who opt out, are they in permanent isolation or just during shift period?

HQ – We can’t force them to take tests and if they don’t, then they must isolate themselves. I’m not aware of anyone refusing a test but I will ask. All UK residents must isolate themselves when staying in the island otherwise they won’t get an exemption certificate. 

Julie Edge – There’s a different risk profile for the Steam Packet. A shift is a day 7 cycle, that seems to be a totally different definition than you’d get for a nurse, I’d say it’s a cycle, not a shift, why is this different to anyone else?

HQ – Yes but we don’t routinely test nurses, we’ve brought this in because while the Manx crew don’t get off at Heysham, they do mix with UK crew and that’s a higher risk to catch it than people working solely on the island. We can’t compare Steam Packet and nurses.

Juan Watterson – Chief Min said an assessment was made that there was no criminal wrongdoing, who made that assessment?

HQ – It wasn’t the AG or the Police, it was feedback from officers doing investigations from the coalface.

Lawrie Hooper – Concerning officers are making judgements around criminality, can you confirm it was no one who would usually make a legal judgement? Why was the gov position that no testing was needed for Steam Packet?

HQ – CoMin don’t get involved in how directions are given to Steam Packet, that is for Public Health, they were of the opinion they were all isolating and what CoMin was told. Steam Packet thought it was only a UK based crew.

Claire Barber – What legal qualification does this officer have? What other breaches of the law can they decide on?

HQ – I believe that the Chief Secretary has the responsibility for deciding if a crime has occured and if that gets referred to the police, see what the review says. 

Julie Edge – When will the report be done?

HQ – Sometime in April I hope, but want it done properly.

Kate Lord-Brennan – Do you believe in the separation of powers and what is Public Health’s role?

HQ – Our Public Health team have had numerous meetings with the Steam Packet to find ways to go forward and reduce the risks. If we want no risks then we’d have to shut down the planes and the boats and we can’t do that. 

Juan Watterson – Will you commit to informing Tynwald what legal expertise the Chief Secretary has, when he gave this advice and who was there when it was given?

HQ – He has legal experience that I know of, we were given an opinion that it was a misunderstanding. Disappointed you want to make it a witch hunt. Something has gone wrong, I was led to believe it was a genuine misunderstanding of the rules. I am not ruling out any further investigations. 

Claire Barber – What other prosecutions were carried out when there were ‘misunderstandings’.

HQ – I can’t comment, let’s see what the review finds.

Jason Moorhouse – Track and trace has been very open about the problems of tracking people, to reduce this risk, can Steam Packet workers be asked to limit their activity while they wait for results?

HQ – There is a review ongoing at the moment in time. 

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